The Big Picture with Kal Penn

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
The Big Picture with Kal Penn TV Poster Image
Intriguing, mature show explores statistics, social issues.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The show presents data and statistics using fun and innovative mapping techniques that paint a clear picture of the information. Content addresses such diverse topics as sports, disease, and international crime, uncovering little-known facts about each one and showing how they affect people. Some episodes deal with mature themes such as the sex trade and drug use, all of which is presented with numbers rather than in personal stories. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The host is engaging and presents information in a clear, educational manner. Of the subjects, a mixed bag of behavior and life choices. 


Some episodes touch on violent topics such as human trafficking, but they're mostly mentioned in passing. 


One episode spotlights data about sex, exploring topics such as brothels, sex rituals, and strip clubs and talking about the popularity of each. The host breaks down sexual activity by demographic, gender, and geographical location. 


"F--k" is edited. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

When the subject warrants it, drugs (pills, marijuana joints, and heroin) are in view. A former user discusses addiction, and one brief scene shows a man snorting heroin.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Big Picture with Kal Penn is a statistics-based series that maps out data related to topics such as natural disasters and international crime in an effort to show how each one affects people on a daily basis. Viewers have a lot of numbers thrown at them in the course of one episode ("highest number per capita," "fastest rate of growth"), but the host's delivery and the show's creative infographics ensure that all the information is easy to digest. Some episodes raise issues such as human trafficking, prostitution, and drug use (with heroin use shown), but the information is presented statistically rather than emotionally. Strong language ("f--k," for instance) is mostly edited. This series is filled with fascinating facts about a variety of subjects, but since many of the topics touch on mature themes, it's best suited for adults and teens with an interest in social issues. 

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What's the story?

In THE BIG PICTURE WITH KAL PENN, host Kal Penn uses data and interviews to illustrate the details of issues such as disease, sex, and fantasy sports. In each case, Penn compiles statistics from every angle of the subject at hand and presents them to viewers using a variety of infographics and maps. From the far-flung financial effects of criminal activity to the ubiquitous nature of natural disasters, this fact-based series aims to put an entertaining spin the numbers regarding a whole host of topics. 

Is it any good?

It sounds like a glorified statistics class, but The Big Picture with Kal Penn is a whole lot more fun than sitting in some stuffy college lecture. For starters, having Penn at the helm brings levity to even the most serious of topics and ensures that none of the numbers gets lost in translation to laypersons in the audience. Even complex matters such as pandemic disease are boiled down to facts and figures that the average viewer can understand without breaking a sweat.

But the show doesn't set out to only deliver the facts; it aims to relate each topic to viewers' lives in some way. Think that drug use doesn’t affect you? You might be surprised to discover how its ripples can reach your doorstep. Is fantasy football simply a fun pastime? Perhaps, but it's also a booming business in which statistics reign supreme. Even if the subject isn't of particular interest to you, this intriguing show may just win you over with its unique visual presentation of otherwise dusty facts and figures. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the purpose of this series. Is it educational? Entertaining? Do you think the information is reliable? How would you go about fact-checking some of its assertions (assuming you'd want to)?

  • Did this show change how you think about some of the issues it addresses? What surprising statements does it make about the economy? The climate and weather? Different societies' attitudes about sexuality? 

TV details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love numbers

Themes & Topics

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